Social Studies

Tennessee Gov. Haslam Raises Concerns About Religion-In-Schools Bill

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — October 22, 2015 2 min read
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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is raising concerns about a legislative proposal that would prohibit schools from teaching about religious doctrine before 10th grade, the Associated Press reports.

State legislators are responding to parents’ concerns about how students are being taught about Islam in schools, but Haslam says that cutting out religious doctrine from school curriculum altogether could have unintended consequences.

This year, a group of Tennessee parents said it seemed that schools were spending more time teaching about Islam than about Christianity. One of the main issues was that middle school students had to learn about the five pillars of Islam in social studies class.

The issue caught fire, with one Christian group issued an enormous open-records request for copies of all school records that relate to the teaching of Islam. Several legislators in the state referred to instruction in issues such as the five pillars as “indoctrination.” (The Tennessean newspaper fact-checked some of the claims about instruction in religion that were being passed around.)

Tennessee’s state board of education has responded to the outcry: The board already planned to revise the state’s social studies standards, but it pushed up the review cycle partly due to the parents’ concerns, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.

The bill that would prohibit instruction in religious doctrine, sponsored by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt, requires that high schoolers studying religions spend equal time on different religions and that religious doctrine not be taught before sophomore year. Butt claims her bill is not targeted at Islam.

But Haslam, also a Republican, said that he is concerned about the practical implications of such a law. He said it might prevent students from learning, for instance, about the reasons that drove some Europeans to immigrate to America in the first place.

“I understand the concern, but the point I’d like to make is we’re not supposed to be teaching doctrine as truth anyway,” Haslam told reporters earlier this week, according to WKRN. “But to not teach doctrine at all, and what the issues are around that doctrine, would leave out some of the fundamental reasons why people started this country.

Tennessee is not the only state where teaching about religion, and particularly about Islam, has sparked controversy. A Georgia district also drew fire earlier this year for teaching about Islam, though the district’s teachers had been using the same curriculum for years.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.